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Golden Knights President Takes You Inside the Team’s Culture

As a guest speaker at the Baseball Winter Meetings, Vegas Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz offered great advice for sports business professionals.

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Bubolz (Left) opened up about how the Golden Knights have built their culture. (Image via @DavidWrightMLB)

Minor League Baseball is a hub for talent, and that certainly was showcased during the keynote speech to kick off this week’s Baseball Winter Meetings.

The speaker, Vegas Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz, spent part of his early career in MiLB and credits it for helping shape his life. Following a brief introduction talking about the Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup Final run, he broke into some career advice and then detailed the culture built in the first major professional team in Las Vegas.

He implored those in leadership positions to take the time to help those who seek career advice. He cited two minor league executives who took time when he was young: the Quad City River Bandits’ Mike Tatoian and Tulsa Drillers’ Joe Preseren.

“It’s important as leaders to pay it forward,” Bubolz said. “At some point in your career, someone gave you a shot. I schedule a 30-minute call, most often with no job opportunities available, and talk about my experience and I’ll give guidance and direction. I talk a lot about Minor League Baseball and how it shaped me and the many opportunities I had.”

READ MORE: 4 Ways to Make Breaking Into the #SportsBiz Much Easier

Bubolz said his career has been driven by people. He repeated he doesn’t have a Harvard MBA and was a “B and C student” in college — but stressed the importance of making connections and how impactful the right ones can be to a career.

At Golden Knights games — like this past Sunday, when plenty of the meeting’s attendees saw the team in action — Bubolz said he’s not sitting in a suite, but mingling with the fans and community.

Following the brief prelude with career advice, he also talked about his core tenets of leadership. Here are some highlights: 

Smile

“As a leader in our organization, we have a difficult task. We’re looked upon by our entire staff. The team is defined by winning and losing, but it doesn’t define our business. I think it’s important to set the tone and always smile.”

Set the pace of the company

“You set the pace for business. When I go get a cup of coffee, I set the pace. I’m moving; there’s an urgency behind getting a cup of coffee. You’re always on. People are always watching.”

Open door

“I meet with every new hire. The door is always open. I want to create an environment where people are comfortable coming in, with hopefully an idea.”

Visibility creates accountability

“We have a quarterly business meeting and we share everything. We share all our revenue numbers, expenses, how we’re performing as a business. From the interns to senior VPs, we want people to understand what they’re playing for — more accountability and more buy-in.”

Get in the weeds of core areas

“I’m not a CEO flying at 30,000 feet. That’s not who I am. Get in the weeds.”

He also talked at length about the building of the culture of the Golden Knights’ business office. Bubolz said he borrowed heavily from his 13 years with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Don’t take bad penalties

“Be smart dealing with customers. Remain cool and collected.”

Support linemates

“Have great respect and understanding of all parts of the business.”

Ignore the goal horn

“In our business with social media, there is a lot of noise. Learn to ignore it and stay focused on the task at hand.”

Smile, even if you’ve had all your teeth knocked out by a high stick

“You can’t fake fun. If your people aren’t having fun, they can’t sell fun. We’re all at our best if we’re all having fun.”

Be different … Ready, aim, fire

“Take chances.”

He listed a variety of ideas brought out for the Golden Knights inaugural season, like the 51/49 raffle, the extravagant pre-game shows, 24-hour select-a-seat event, and an in-arena castle stage.

No honeymoon

A Stanley Cup run in an expansion season could lead to a let-down of a second season. Five weeks after the finals, the business team got together and set its second-season goals. This year, crowds are at 106 percent occupancy (last year was 103 percent) and sponsorship revenues have seen eight-figure growth.

The team came three wins short of hoisting the Stanley Cup in its first season, a rare accomplishment for any team let alone an expansion franchise, but the connection it made with the community was incredible. More than anything, it was a message than can resonate with MiLB teams who are crafting community gatherings.

READ MORE: Why Scoring a Career in Minor League Baseball Is Anything but Minor 

Bubolz said he felt the Golden Knights helped change the narrative of the tourist-laden city and brought together a city of 2.3 million residents from different parts of the country and hurt by a tragedy. The team’s business operations coined it internally as the Golden Thread.

“I really believe community is a contact sport — and it’s our secret sauce,” he said. “Never forget how important it is to for players and the organization to say ‘yes.’ You get a lot of requests, but don’t lose sight of what got you there. We’re in the business of saying ‘yes.’”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

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Kyrie Irving Expected to Sign with Roc Nation

Kyrie Irving is expected to sign with Roc Nation, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

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Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Kyrie Irving is expected to sign with Roc Nation, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

Irving, who was most recently repped by Jeffrey Wechsler of 24/7 Sports Management, joins an NBA client roster at Roc Nation that includes the likes of Kevin Durant, Josh Hart, Justise Winslow, Danny Green and Caris LeVert.

The switch in representation comes on the same day that Irving took the first step toward his prospective free agency this summer.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Irving is not opting into his $21.3 million contract for the 2019-20 season and will become an unrestricted free agent.

By not opting into his contract, Irving can sign with any NBA team when free agency opens on Sunday, June 30th.

If he signs with a team other than the Celtics, he will be eligible to sign a max deal worth $139 million over four years.

If he were to stay with the Celtics, Irving can sign a five-year deal worth $188 million.

An industry source speculated that Roc Nation could be waiving the fees on Irving’s contract in order to retain his marketing rights.

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Meet the WNBA’s New Boss

Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert will become the first commissioner of the WNBA and the first woman to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

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*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

For the first time ever, the WNBA will have a commissioner. Before now, all of the league’s previous leaders like Val Ackerman and Lisa Borders were given the title of president. 

Cathy Engelbert, the current CEO of Deloitte, will take control of the role on July 17th and will report directly to Adam Silver. 

What should you know?

1. By the time she is done at Deloitte, Engelbert will have spent more time at the company (33 years) than the WNBA has been a league (23 years)

2. Engelbert is the first female to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

3. She is the fifth person to lead the league after Val Ackerman (1997-2005), Donna Orender (2005-10), Laurel Richie (2011-15) and Lisa Borders (2016-2018)

4. Engelbert has spent the past four years in charge of Deloitte’s U.S. operation.

Basketball is in her blood…

Although she might be an accountant by trade, Engelbert is no stranger to the game of basketball. 

According to Bob Hille of Sporting News, she played at Lehigh for Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw and was a team captain as a senior. Her father Kurt also played and was drafted in 1957 by the Pistons.

What are they saying?

“Cathy is a world-class business leader with a deep connection to women’s basketball, which makes her the ideal person to lead the WNBA into its next phase of growth. The WNBA will benefit significantly from her more than 30 years of business and operational experience including revenue generation, sharp entrepreneurial instincts and proven management abilities.” – Adam Silver on the hiring of Engelbert

“I think that’s probably one of the reasons I was selected for this role, to come in and bring a business plan to build the WNBA into a real business and a thriving business, quite frankly.” – Engelbert to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel

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Adam Silver Wants More Gender Diversity

The NBA commissioner states his desire to get more women into the sports industry. The NBA currently has a 31.6 percent ratio of women in team management.

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*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

If Adam Silver has his way, 50 percent of the new incoming NBA officials will be women.

That number applies to coaches too, Silver said speaking at the Economic Club of Washington.

How do the leagues stack up?

The following numbers, outside of MLB, come from 2018 reports put together by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. MLB is the first league to have a report done on it this year.

1. NBA – 31.6% of team management are women / 37.2% of team professional admins are women

2. NFL – 22.1% of team senior admins are women / 35% of team professional admins are women

3. MLB – 28.6% of team senior admins are women / 26% of team professional admins are women

4. MLS – 26.5% of team senior admins are women / 31.6% of team professional admins are women

5. WNBA – 48.6% of team VPs and above are women / 58% of team managers to senior directors are women

6. NHL – No report done

Quotes from Silver… 

“It’s an area, frankly, where I’ve acknowledged that I’m not sure how it was that it remained so male-dominated for so long. Because it’s an area of the game where physically, certainly, there’s no benefit to being a man, as opposed to a woman, when it comes to refereeing.”

“The goal is going forward, it should be roughly 50-50 of new officials entering in the league. Same for coaches, by the way. We have a program, too. There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball.”

That’s not all Silver wants to see change…

Silver, who has been adamant about getting rid of the one-and-done rule, provided some clarity as to when that might be achieved.

According to the commissioner, the 2022 NBA Draft will likely be the first one since the 2005 NBA Draft to allow high school players to go straight into the league rather than playing a season in college first.

Citing “active discussions” with the NBPA, Silver noted that they are still “a few years away.”

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